When Murdoch’s tabloid failed Liverpool the people kicked it out of town for good. What’s stopping Melbourne?

Cities that have experienced collective trauma are capable of remarkable things. 

New York’s first responders after 9/11. The endurance of ordinary people from both sides of Berlin’s wretched Wall. 

And Liverpool. The only city in the world to drive one of Rupert Murdoch’s gutter rags back into the gutter for good.

Liverpool, a rainy, sport’s mad, music-loving, left-leaning coastal city, split down the middle by a river but united by a sense of identity and purpose. (If you can’t see where I’m going with this, let’s just pretend they like soy flat whites and poached eggs as well.)  

In 1989, 96 fans of Liverpool Football Club died in a crowd crush at the Hillsborough Football stadium on a fucking miserable Saturday afternoon. 96 people went to a football match to watch their team, because that’s what people do, on their hard-earned weekend reprieve, and they never came home again. 

The Sun, the largest newspaper in the UK, did what Murdoch tabloids always do. It made things worse. 

It blamed the survivors of the tragedy. It tormented the fans that were already destined to be traumatised for the rest of their lives from the moment that horrendous stadium erupted; the same fans who helped pull each other to safety while the actual guilty party behind the crush, the South Yorkshire Police, stood and watched and refused to help – and then later covered up its own negligence. 

The Sun caused pain, and it caused anguish. It turned the rest of the nation against Liverpool, painting the city as a revolting rabble that deserved what it got. It punched down. It spoke to and prodded at humanity’s worst impulses. It sought to divide when it should have healed and united. It covered up for a crooked, conservative establishment. 

The Sun did what Murdoch rags always do, but it went too far. 

And everyone in Liverpool knew it. And Liverpool kicked it the fuck out of town to honour the memories of 96 of their own.

819 Melburnians died from coronavirus this year. 

Do you think The Herald Sun went too far this year? Because I think it fucking did.

***

Liverpool has never forgiven The Sun for this front page.

“The Truth,” when none of it was. All unsubstantiated, all lies. Needlessly cruel, with long-lasting repercussions.

Liverpool as a bruised collective eclipsed The Sun. Even now, 31 years later, there is no demand for it on Merseyside. It is not socially acceptable to be seen reading it. Local cafes wouldn’t dare stock it. “Don’t Buy The Sun” is plastered across taxis and billboards and walls and etched into minds. The campaign to drive The Sun out of town went well beyond activist groups and radicals – it became, and still is, a crucial part of Liverpool’s identity as a city.

The Beatles are arguably pretty decent. Daniel Craig is a very good James Bond. Steven Gerrard has a remarkable right foot. But Liverpool chased Rupert Murdoch out of town, and he stayed out, which is far and away the most important thing that city has ever gifted the world. Hope.

The Sun is scorned in Liverpool because it betrayed Liverpool in its time of need. 

Liverpool won. 

It will never forgive The Sun for its “The Truth” front page.

What does Melbourne think of this front page?

On 25 August, the day this hit newsstands, Victoria recorded 148 new cases of coronavirus. Eight Melburnians had died the day before. This was a moment in time when the virus was ravaging this city, and all we needed to do to escape this nightmare was buy in and follow the advice from our Premier and his health team

This is not about covering up for any mistakes made by the Andrews Government. We need answers for everything that happened here. This is about acknowledging that after the hotel quarantine failed, and the virus had spread widely amongst the community, Melbourne was left with only one realistic option: our horrendous, boring, maddening, exhausting, shattering, heartbreaking, financially crippling lockdown – not only for ourselves, but on behalf of the entire country.

The Herald Sun did not want it to work. As resolve and compliance threatened to collapse as the long months wore on, The Herald Sun sought to undermine the health response – our sacrifices – at every. single. step. 

It did this by peddling an unhinged fantasy that we were living through a totalitarian hellscape instead of a literal pandemic. Filtered down to 2020 results alone, there are 41 stories on The Herald Sun’s website that surface when you search for “Dictator Dan”. 41!!!

But it’s just a joke though, right? Lol??? 

Seems pretty serious!! Might be time to rise up and reclaim democracy from Dear Leader of the House Andrews, First of His Name, Custodian of the North Face, Oppressor of Sam Newman’s Golf Swing.

And now that we’ve made the democratically elected Premier sound like a despot, what if we also made those unhinged Pete Evans fans who like to storm shopping centres singing John Farnham (again, quite well – you cannot knock their harmonies!) sound like the French Resistance?

What if we encouraged them, gave them advanced coverage, and painted them as an unstoppable force to be reckoned with?

And then, on top of all that, with minds frayed and nerves shattered, why not let convicted racist Andrew Bolt off his already-too-long leash. Brains are mush at the moment, maybe the hate will be more effective?  

Do you know what The Herald Sun really means when it says “toxic multiculturalism”? It means having brown people live in this city. Fuck The Herald Sun.

People talk about how racist Andrew Bolt is all the time – he’s been convicted as such so that’s fair enough – but far too few also say what a terrible useless hack of a writer he is. He’s trotted out variations of this theme over and over and over again throughout our March-October park-and-home based purgatory. 

And let’s be completely clear: there are good journalists at The Herald Sun. There are at most NewsCorp publications – Sky News and Fox News being the obvious exceptions. But those good journalists are not the loudest voices. They do not set the tone. And they do not make up for the lies, and the hate, and the damage to democracy.

These good journalists can’t say this publicly, because NewsCorp is the largest media employer in this country and we all need to pay the bills, but they agree with every word I’ve said too. They know as well. 

The Herald Sun does not deserve your money. Donate to The Guardian instead. It has been exceptional and honest and human and supportive throughout this crisis. If you donate enough maybe they can hire those good Hun journos? 

Fuck it, donate to us too! We’ll hire the people that put together The Herald Sun’s crossword because it’s easier than The Age’s and it makes you feel smarter. People like that. We’ll even start covering the footy if we have to.

Just don’t give money to The Herald Sun. They don’t deserve it. The State Government’s mistakes in the face of coronavirus were mistakes. The Herald Sun’s were not. They were deliberate. They are not on your side.

***

Liverpool won. How does Melbourne win?

Well the good news is we already are.

It’s not as sharp as our remarkable covid curve, but we’ve gotten good at working together to destroy malevolent diseases, so I see potential.

And do you know what trended for hours on Twitter the night Melbourne’s 112-day lockdown was finally declared over?

#NoBeersForNewsCorp. There was a party online and everyone was invited except for these assholes. Because they didn’t help. They made it harder, they made it worse, and it’s never been more obvious to so many people. 

And, to hammer home the point with even less subtlety than The Hun’s climate change denial: while Melbourne was throwing its well deserved iso piss-up, do you know what was plastered across the unsold copies of The Herald Sun, still scattered in supermarkets and newsagents like a rotting corpse, right as this city let out an exhausted, exhilarated cry?

The Herald Sun could not have missed the Zeitgeist any harder, and now the Zeitgeist is to get rid of The Herald Sun.

Mad Fucking Witches is the online collective responsible for getting Alan Jones booted from his 2GB radio gig. Jennie Hill, the spokesperson for this otherwise largely anonymous collective, tells me they “take about 90% of the responsibility for getting Jones sacked.” 

After Jones said that Scott Morrison should “shove a sock down [NZ PM Jacinda Ardern’s] throat,” MFW put out an open call for help. Many, many people responded. Anonymous executives at one of the big four banks. Celebrities. They made calls. They emailed. They didn’t let up. And their efforts led directly to 530 advertisers pulling their support.  

MFW has now turned its sights onto The Herald Sun and the rest of the Murdoch Empire. Their newest campaign is called Murdoch Free Melbourne. #NewsCorpse.

They’re not alone. The Chaser now offers an “unsubscribe from NewsCorp” service for people “who can’t be arsed waiting on the phone for three hours themselves”. Cam Smith, editor of The Chaser, says thus far they’ve “unsubscribed about 1200 people”. At an industry party, Smith was told by a NewsCorp “bigwig” that they wouldn’t worry about The Chaser until 50,000 people had been unsubscribed. As Smith says, this “unintentionally gave us a nice concrete goal to work towards.”

(Full disclosure: The Shot is The Chaser’s sister publication… but we’ve been carrying them the last few months, so maybe they’re our sister publication now?)

Activists like these are important, but they’re not the most important part. Do you know why it really worked for Liverpool? Because it became part of that city’s identity. 

Meet Jürgen Klopp. He is the manager (coach in Aussie terms) of Liverpool FC. He is German, and grew up in Germany. He was not directly impacted by the Hillsborough tragedy. But he knows that for his adopted city to truly embrace him, winning the top division of English football, the Premier League, for the first time in 30 years – that isn’t enough by itself. 

He refuses to talk to The Sun at press conferences and interviews. He does this because he respects his new city, and its people, and its history. Check out this short clip. He’s a legend.

Much of Melbourne’s social elite has embarrassed itself throughout this lockdown. Bec Judd, Sam Newman, countless morning TV hosts and politicians and bored privileged rich people. This is the moment for the rest, for anyone still sane with a platform, to take a stand. Does Melbourne have legends the calibre of Jürgen Klopp?

As a city, we are as obsessed with our identity as any other, but it is fluid. We’ve embellished it and changed before. We embraced shit haircuts and wearing only the colour black just because it seemed like the sort of thing we should do at the time. There’s certainly a better reason to embrace this.  

There is momentum. There is reason. And former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s petition to start a Royal Commission into the Murdoch media monopoly currently has 400,000 signatures. That’s astounding. Sign it.

But why wait for a Royal Commission? They can take years and can then be ignored by politicians anyway (aged care, anyone?). We don’t need politicians to do this. And I smell blood in the water right now. 

It needs to be socially unacceptable to read and sell The Herald Sun after what it did to us this year. Cafes shouldn’t stock it. Newsagents shouldn’t sell it. If people see it in the supermarket it should be moved to the toilet paper aisle where it belongs. And we should be proud about all this. This is personal now, like it was for Liverpool.

***

This is not about the fact that The Herald Sun is a conservative newspaper. Conservatives are entitled to media that speaks to them in the same way we all are. I truly believe that. 

This is about the fact that The Herald Sun is a stupid newspaper. It is a mean newspaper. It is callous, and it is spiteful, and it is wrong when it needs to be right. It lies, and deceives, and twists the truth into pathetic racist little climate-denying, pandemic-denying knots. 

It failed the city it was meant to serve during its time of greatest need.

It was not on our side.

It failed Melbourne because it failed to recognise that this was actually really fucking real for five million people. It couldn’t put aside its bullshit for just a few months. 

My two-year old cried quite a bit between March and October because the “swings were sick”. But for the most part he understood, and he got on with it, and he’s two! Most of us understood: that our actions would determine if we were able to escape this horrifying, boring apocalypse. We found strength in our small 5km lives, in our actions and the kindness of friends and strangers. We helped each other.   

The Herald Sun did not help. It sought to undermine the only viable path out of this mess because the guy leading the charge was wearing the wrong colour shirt, playing for the wrong team. 

It painted Melbourne as a city in revolt, encouraging non-compliance and prodding our percolating insanity. It did this by creating the false consensus of “everyone wants to overthrow this despot, rise up people”. This had two direct impacts: (1) it suckered the more unhinged amongst us into its web, and (2), for the people inoculated from this tosh, it heightened already skyrocketing anxiety because we now needed to worry about that first group as well

***

I want to leave you with two final thoughts.

The first is a question no one has a good answer for: 

Why can Australians accept that Fox News has ruined a generation of American minds, American families, and, basically, American democracy, while at the same time refuse to accept that the same organisation, owned by the same person, run by the same people, driven by the same ideology, using the same methods, distorting the exact same truths but toying with different lives – ours – couldn’t have a similar impact here?

Is our local Murdoch branch just worse at it? Because they’re definitely trying. Why would you even take the risk? There’s too much at stake. This isn’t even about the media. It’s about democracy. It’s about our lives.

The second thing isn’t as important but it’s not unimportant. 

Now that a semblance of normality is returning to this city, some of our old cliches and pointless rivalries have room to flourish once more…

Imagine if we got rid of our Murdoch rag and Sydney didn’t. 

Or, even better: before Sydney. 

That would settle everything, wouldn’t it? No amount of Harbour Bridges or Opera Houses or thriving pokies venues could ever compete with that.

Case closed. 

***

By David Milner

   


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